What NPOs Can Learn from a Makers Culture | Nonprofit Blog

Before the steam engine and assembly lines, everything was handmade. Obviously that’s not the case anymore, but they say history repeats itself. We are now in the wake of a society filled with plenty of homebrewers, screenprinters and even tech junkies who want to create and sell.

Sites like Pinterest and Etsy have inspired hundreds of people to do it themselves. This society has earned itself the title of “makers culture,” which is an umbrella term that encompasses passionate designers, curious inventors and ceaseless tinkerers that create and sell. Plus, it involves consumers that would rather be imaginative rather than routine when purchasing. Zach Kaplan, CEO of Inventables, told Time magazine that a makers culture has the potential to move people from “passive users to active creators.”

The makers movement breaks down into two parts. The first is the maker—a person who puts the pen to the paper and uses elbow grease to make the goods to be sold. The second part is the public—people who are passionate about supporting local makers and consuming hand crafted goods over mass produced items. The two parts usually intersect with each other when makers support other makers. And that’s when places like co-ops are formed.

My brother recently co-founded a nonprofit with a unique cause. Their mission is to inspire and bring awareness to this makers culture in a city that has a lot of potential for people who create and support handmade goods. Their format is relatively simple: have a retail space where local goods can be sold (all profits go to the creators) and a space where creatives can come to work and bump elbows with each other. Everything from the branding on their shirts to the wooden conference tables were built by hand in a fashion that mirrors the process of those who are knee deep in the makers culture.

Their goal is to inspire, collaborate and promote locals, but what’s the benefit? Well, like many nonprofit organizations, their key to success is largely based upon connecting the community with a cause that a large group can get behind. Not only do they want to self-promote, but they also want to promote change within and around the city, just like hundreds of other hand-made nonprofit organizations. From bloggers and designers to excel gurus and website coders, every nonprofit has its own makers right within their walls.

I may be part of a generation of vigorous consumers, but I was raised at the end of an era where exploration and creativity were more important than mindless consumption and technology. I spent my childhood building fortresses from K’nex, spaceships from Legos and sculpting blue and green snowmen from Play-Doh. All of these products were made to inspire young minds to become makers of something from their own mind rather than consumers of something made by foreign hands (even if the products themselves were made elsewhere).

Similar to various nonprofits, the makers culture is all about people in different areas of expertise coming together for the greater cause that is the community.

To be successful, you must define your own success and not be afraid to collaborate to get there. Nonprofits make up the hands and feet of community engagement and community wellness, and what good are hands and feet that don’t work together? When various NPOs are in harmony, nonprofits from all realms have the potential to be a catalyst for the community.

So what can your organization learn from this? Don’t get stuck in the commonplace. Inspire. Collaborate. You never know what exciting ideas will come from it.

A Note from Nick—If you want to have a part in advancing the makers movement, find your hobby and make it a part time gig. The time to make is now. Let your inner hobbyist meet your inner entrepreneur and transform the way we create and purchase goods of all kinds. Don’t have the creative bug to create and sell goods? Support your community and give in a new way. Find the outlets in your area to find hand crafted merchandise. Buy local and explore a better way to consume. Impacting your community and the community as a whole doesn’t always consist of donations to large corporations. The implications of pumping your funds into a local outlet has enormous potential for growth in communities, and opportunities for new nonprofit organizations.



Nick Small

With specialties in content strategy and creation, social media engagement and digital marketing optimization, Nick brings a depth of experience in nonprofit marketing. He’s also helped hundreds of nonprofits with their online presence to improve donor retention and attract new audiences, and he still has time for a good glass of whiskey, round of golf or new adventure.

November 4, 2014

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